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April 18, 2016 by Peter Kramer

Building a Pickup, Piece by eBay Piece

PGT Benefit 2011

"It's a challenge, I'll tell you," said Steven Abusch, co-owner and set designer at Play Group Theatre. "But I think it's going to come together."

"It" is a 1994 or 1995 Nissan Hardbody pickup truck, the central prop in "Hands on a Hardbody," the next musical at the White Plains youth theater, opening May 8.

The 2013 Tony-nominated musical — with music by Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green — centers on 10 Texans in a contest to win a brand-new pickup. All they have to do is stay awake and keep their hands on the truck, despite a blistering Lone Star sun. The last contestant standing wins the truck.

In order for those hands to be on that Hardbody, Play Group Theatre needed a Hardbody. On Broadway, they used a real truck, not an option for the youth theater.

"To get anything into my theater, it either has to fit through a single door or I have to carry it up two flights of stairs and then through a double door," Abusch said. "I knew from the get-go it was going to be impossible to get a truck into our theater, so I knew it was going to have to happen piece by piece."

His wife, Jill, directs the musical, but left the truck to Steven.

"That's how we roll," he said with a laugh. "When she needed a Pinocchio nose that can grow on stage, she said 'Steven, we're doing "My Son, Pinocchio" and you're making the Pinocchio nose because I can't find one online. Good luck!"

When that show opened, Pinocchio had a nifty pneumatic nose, an Abusch original.

"That was an engineering feat," he said. "With the truck, I feel like I'm basically working backward from what the truck was before it was in pieces."

When it came to the truck, which he's still assembling, "I got lucky," he said.

"I went on eBay and found some really good parts out there. I found a hood, a driver's door from one chop shop, a passenger's door from another chop shop. The front fenders I found new and affordable, which was great."

Some parts were 69 cents; others cost more than $200. The final figure won't be known until opening night.

"I wasn't able to get the side of the truck bed, so I'll be building those," Abusch said. "The frame I'm making out of wood. The key thing we'd like the prop to do is rotate."

He drives a Chrysler Town & Country minivan with a theater owner's dream: seats that fold flat into the floor, making it possible to get 4x8 sheets of plywood home from Home Depot. His connection at the White Plains Chrysler dealership even donated wheels to Abusch's on-stage efforts.

The assignment has changed Abusch's focus.

"Jill laughs at me because now I'm constantly walking up to cars to see how they're put together and what the paint finish looks like," he said with a laugh. "When I'm caught in a project, I'm constantly observing."

'Hands on a Hardbody'

What: Ten contestants try to stay away and keep their hands on a truck in the hot Texas sun. The last one standing wins the truck. Presented by the teens at Play Group Theater.

Where: Play Group Theater, 1 N. Broadway, White Plains.

When: 2 and 7 p.m., May 8 and 15.

Tickets: $15 and $18, $15 for groups of 20 or more, seniors and children under 12.

Web: www.playgroup.org

Call: 914-946-4433

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